Thursday, July 31, 2014

Santa Rosalia - Second Time Around

We left El Burro Cove in Bahia Concepcion early on the morning of July 5th and motored north for 11 hours to Santa Rosalia, still on Baja. It was a long hot day with no wind and not much of interest going on in the sea around us. When we pulled into the marina we were greeted by several other boats we knew from our anchorages over the previous weeks. It was fun to re-connect and several of us went to a local restaurant for dinner that evening.
Mike was in rusty equipment heaven in Santa Rosalia
Evidence of the old mines is scattered throughout the town

I wasn't sure that I would even write a post about Santa Rosalia this time around since I remembered writing from there last year. But I went back in the blog to re-read my previous post and found that it is a short and boring note. Santa Rosalia deserves more.
Whenever cruisers gather we talk about the places we have visited and when the talk turns to Santa Rosalia it seems that people either love it or hate it.

Santa Rosalia has old and dirty bits and modern artistic bits and purely puzzling bits. No one could tell me why the town's library is named after Mahatma Gandhi.

The old downtown area is shabby and doesn't seem to offer a lot. But there is the metal church designed by Gustave Eiffel, several good restaurants, the French bakery (bread, donuts and Mexican style cookies), the wildly popular ice cream store named Splash, several well-stocked hardware stores, and the famous hot dog man who sells bacon wrapped hot dogs from his stand every night after 7 pm except when he doesn't. The grocery stores are small, dark, and not very well stocked. But there is a larger, more modern market up on the hill and a Coppel department store that very few cruisers seem to know about. We found everything we wanted including good quality fresh meats and produce. It's a bit of a hike back to the marina with bags of groceries but a taxi ride was only 40 pesos which is less than $4 American.

The town has very little beach and the water is too dirty for swimming so that's a major drawback. The small beach, Playa Negra, is black sand and dirty and I cringe to see local children playing in the waters there. The waters of the marina are full of garbage and really pretty gross. Without attractive beaches, the town draws little tourist attention so it is simply a small city of Mexicans going about their daily business. There isn't the same enthusiastic welcome that we receive in the towns where they depend on visiting gringos for much of their income. And few of the locals speak English. But they are very friendly and helpful if you make any effort at all to communicate with them.

According to my limited research (details seem to vary), copper was discovered by a rancher in the area in the 1860's. In the mid-1880's the President of Mexico gave a French mining company 44,742 acres and mineral rights for 99 years plus 50 years tax-exempt status to build mines. In return, they built the town including the port and public buildings, provided employment and established a sea trade route between Santa Rosalia and the mainland. You can still see the French influence in old houses and commercial buildings throughout the town.
We enjoyed a tour of the mine museum very much but the guide didn't speak English and only a few of the signs were translated. Fortunately I was able to understand and translate for Mike most of what he said, otherwise it would not have been quite as interesting. The guide, Oswaldo, seemed thrilled at our visit. I don't think the museum gets much attention and it is another place that most of our fellow cruisers either didn't know about or couldn't find.

The history of Santa Rosalia and the Boleo mine is fascinating to me. The contrast of cultures, the town's place in the history of the two world wars and the 1910 Mexican revolution, the resilience of the people; it is all so unique and interesting. Santa Rosalia was the second city in Mexico to have electricity (Mexico City was first) and also had the first working telephone in Baja. There is so much that I would like to write about it but I realize not everyone is as interested as I am. If you have any interest at all, I recommend reading -
The recruiting of the miners (including thousands from Japan and China) and the conditions under which they worked and lived is heartbreaking. The first 100 workers were Yaqui Indians brought over from the prison in Guaymas. For a time a miner's family was granted a water allowance of only 1 bucket per day and they had to pay for that. Many died of disease epidemics and mine explosions.
One interesting bit of information was that the copper was shipped from Santa Rosalia all the way to Tacoma, Washington for refining. The boats returning from Tacoma were filled with lumber from the Pacific Northwest. It's reasonable to imagine that some of those old homes were built with lumber from my home town of Shelton, Washington.

One afternoon we walked up to the cemetery which was a hearty hike, steeply uphill under the blazing sun. It was the hike itself that made it worthwhile as we wound around the streets of a hillside neighborhood, walking sometimes through backyards or up narrow stairways with houses so close you could reach in through their windows.

The route went this way and that and always people were very friendly when we asked for directions. They didn't seem at all surprised to see gringos wandering around the neighborhood in search of the graveyard.

We stayed in Santa Rosalia for a week this time. Count me among those who love it.

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